“In a world of diminishing mystery,” Jhumpa Lahiri writes, referring to the Internet-driven present, “the unknown persists.” The unknown shapes the characters in The Lowland, many of whom move through life as though they are actors unaware of what happened in the prior scene because their family members have kept vital secrets from them.
In her fourth, most ambitious and melancholy book, Lahiri returns to the theme that drove her first novel and two story collections — exploring the duties of parents to children, and children to parents in the context of Bengali immigrants to America. She also enlarges her investigation, encompassing the effects of a revolutionary movement on a society and especially a family.
As The Lowland begins, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers growing up in Calcutta, where they engage in such mischief as sneaking into the Tolly Club, a private golf course for British residents. The younger brother, Udayan, instigates the high jinks. “He was blind to self-constraints,” Lahiri writes, “like an animal incapable of perceiving certain colors. But Subhash strove to minimize his existence, as other animals merged with bark or blades of grass.”
Both brothers excel in school. Udayan studies physics in college and Subhash chemical engineering. But while Subhash immerses himself in his studies, Udayan becomes involved in the radical communist Naxalite movement that springs up in India in the late 1960s. For the first time in his life, Subhash does not follow his brother’s lead. Instead, he pursues his graduate studies in Rhode Island while Udayan engages in increasingly perilous revolutionary activity.
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